MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --
Roth’s writing the Commanders Column again. You know what that means. Must be another Star Wars movie coming out.
As it happens … yes … tickets to the 14 December premiere of Episode VIII are currently burning a hole in my pocket, but I swear it’s merely a coincidence. And, lucky for you, my previous two columns fully exhausted my ability to weave thinly-veiled Star Wars references into some sort of barely-relevant message.
Besides, ‘tis the season for holiday greetings, safety tips and year-end wrap-ups! And there’s no shortage of serious topics that merit discussion. From the dawn of the Blended Retirement System and the wing’s looming AEF tasking to more global issues like the relentless demand for military might despite budget instability and manpower shortages. Who has time for Star Wars, right?
Just kidding. This is my last month as Force Support Squadron commander, so I don’t expect another opportunity to commandeer this column any time soon. Let’s talk Star Wars.
Here’s a list of “Lessons Learned as a Squadron Commander” filtered shamelessly through my admittedly geeky anticipation of The Last Jedi.
1) Passing the torch (or lightsaber, as it were). Episode VIII is the second film in a third trilogy that’s expanded the classic Star Wars universe by carefully handing the fate of the galaxy off to a new cast of characters. Ignoring the obvious Jedi-centric thrust of the new movie and focusing instead on the military angle, I’m guessing we’ll see some sort of power shift from Princess-turned-General Leia to newcomer Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern with purple hair). Like Leia and her fellow Class of 1977 alumni Luke and Han, seasoned squadron leaders (commanders, chiefs, first shirts, etc.) offer familiarity and continuity … vital links to our shared history, traditions and values. But our days are numbered, and the Swamp Fox saga obviously is far from over.
We can exit gracefully (like Harrison Ford). Or tragically (like Carrie Fisher). Or perhaps stick around and chew scenery for a few more episodes (like Mark Hamill). But, sooner or later, we become legend, and our successors must carry the mission forward. It’s up to us to make the absolute most of our screen time, because our odds of returning from beyond to impart wisdom and guidance (ala Ghost-Force Obi-Wan) are slim. Best to act like you’re not going to be in the sequel!
2) Everybody has a dark side. Not necessarily a black-helmeted, Force-choking, Death-Star-building, capital-letters-Dark-Side dark side. But we’re prone to stress, weakness, temptation, poor decisions and, even worse, ambivalence. Trailers for Episode VIII make it clear that our protagonists … old and new … are wrestling with crises of conscience this time around, caught again in the timeless tug-of-war between the Light and the Dark. Though presumably less melodramatic, I’d argue your typical SCANG member is similarly conflicted. They’re shouldering important life decisions, inner demons of various magnitude and the delicate balance between a civilian career, their military obligations and the best interests of their family.
Forty years of Star Wars has taught us well, though. Mentor/apprentice relationships really do make a difference (think Yoda/Luke). And, if they’re neglected, taken for granted or otherwise mismanaged, things can go terribly wrong (think Obi-Wan/Anakin or even Palpatine/Vader). In the new film, Luke will struggle to train and mentor potential padawan Rey. Leia will consciously position fighter jock Poe Dameron for increased responsibility. And, all the while, Supreme Leader Snoke will vie for the hearts and minds of the weak. So, the significance and consequences of mentorship (good and bad) remains front-and-center in Episode VIII.
Here at McEntire, I’d suggest the significance and consequences of mentorship also should remain front-and-center. Pass on what you have learned! (Some of the last words spoken by Yoda. Just saying.)
3) Everybody wants to be part of something bigger than themselves. That’s what propelled plucky farm boy Luke Skywalker into the very center of this epic tale to begin with. Sure, he initially wanted nothing more than to kick the Tatooine dirt off his heels and blow stuff up. But it didn’t take long for his dreams … his vision of himself … to expand far beyond those somewhat selfish, youthful desires. The same is true for virtually every other major character in the Star Wars universe, including the new cast of characters. The orphaned scavenger, the reluctant Storm Trooper, even the cocky fighter pilot. They’re driven by the hope and purpose of the Resistance. Driven to make a difference. They’re no longer (only) looking out for number one.
After four years as a squadron commander, I now believe the same is true for virtually every major character in the McEntire universe, including our new cast of characters. I have watched selfish, youthful desires … when cultivated by deliberate mentors, immersed in the mission of the SCANG and embraced by the fellowship of the Swamp Fox … mature right before my eyes. I’ve been a member of this unit longer than my youngest squadron member has been alive, and I am encouraged (if not occasionally baffled) by this next generation of Airmen. Each, in his or her own way, is living the Skywalker dream!
In other words, I’ve got a good feeling about this.
Merry Christmas and may the Force be with you.